The original Homestead Act of 1862 was, by all accounts, a huge success. It basically gave a plot of undeveloped land to anybody, as long as they promised to do something to improve it (such as open a titty bar or a brothel, perhaps).
But, just like the great movie that gets a shitty sequel, the government came out with the cleverly named Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 and turned a huge chunk of the country into a living Hell.
How It Backfired:
The Act gave 320 acres to farmers willing to accept land that wasn't considered all that great for farming, due to a lack of water or whatever. This would have been a good place to put up those strip clubs, but instead, people tried to farm the land anyway. No big deal, right?
Well, that useless land they were trying to farm had previously been covered with grass. They plowed over it, leaving exposed soil that, over the years, became as dry and loose as an elderly prostitute. Eventually, winds kicked this dirt into the air.
Not only did all of this dust in the air exacerbate the drought conditions, it looked all manner of badass. No matter how rugged your grandfather was, he probably shit his depression-era burlap pants when he saw this coming...
Not pictured: Satan
Take the above, imagine it happening for ten straight years, and you have the screaming horror that came to be known as the Dust Bowl.
Think we're exaggerating? Consider the side effects. For one, the drought led to an explosion in centipede, black widow and tarantula populations. This was at a time when homes on the prairie were basically wood shacks. Shacks with gaps in the wall. Gaps that fucking tarantulas could fit through. Lots of them. If you woke up with a furry spider the size of your fist relaxing on your pillow waiting to impose its will on you, chances are you'd die of a heart attack before it ever struck.
Imagine waking up knowing there were dozens of them bitches in your house. Every day. Not even the jackrabbits in the yard could stop them from coming in. That's right, there was a plague of jackrabbits also. While this most certainly made for the most adorable plague ever, they devoured everything in their path, which wasn't much to begin with.
It was the last thing already struggling farmers needed. It would have driven them to drink, only that Prohibition thing was still going on for most of it. Oh, and the Great Depression.
What could be worse? Just wait...
There are a lot of fucking people in China. So the idea of using that immense population to help convert mainland China into a more modern, productive society wasn't a bad idea at all. This would mark the first and last decent idea employed during China's Great Leap Forward, a gargantuan clusterfuck which lasted five years starting in 1958.
How It Backfired:
It would be a lot easier to just tell you the ways this shit didn't backfire. That would be none. For instance, one part involved taking all of those peasant farmers and setting them to making steel. In their backyards. Instead of farming.
"What the hell am I doing?"
Have you ever tried to make steel at home? Does that seem like a retardedly impossible thing to do? Congratulations, you are smarter than Chairman Mao.
But perhaps the best example of Great Leap Forward idiocy was the Great Sparrow Campaign. One of the goals of the Great Leap Forward was to rid the country of "the four great pests." That would be rats, flies, mosquitoes and...sparrows? Fucking cockroaches get a pass?
Look at this dipshit.
At any rate, adorably primitive steps were taken to rid the country of the dreaded sparrow, including villagers shooing them away using pots and pans. The reason for this, according to the people behind the plan, was because sparrows fed on seeds, thereby negatively affecting harvests. Unfortunately, the sparrow experts failed to inform the Chinese government that sparrows also ate locusts. So many of them, in fact, that the sparrows were the only thing between China and a full-on Biblical locust plague. With the sparrows finally gone, the locusts swept in.
Remaining harvest levels (meaning the amount the government didn't seize) were already ridiculously low, thanks partly to millions of able-bodied farmers staring confusedly at steel furnaces bellowing smoke in their backyards instead of farming. What crops were left were promptly devoured by an army of locusts.
So the government got their cut of the grain, the locusts got theirs...and about 38 million Chinese citizens got nothing. In the name of not completely bumming you out for the rest of the day, we'll leave the next few years to your imagination.
More from Adam can be found at ScenicAnemia.com
For other expensive disasters, check out Adam's look at 5 Tiny Mistakes That Led To Huge Catastrophes or his investigative report about The Awful Truth Behind 5 Items Probably On Your Grocery List. Or, visit the Cracked.com Top Picks to see what we're looking at instead of working.